Of Chimney Sweeps and the Holocaust: Dresden's 'Lucky Gas Stadium' Courts Controversy

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Stadiums named after companies are hardly new. But in Dresden, many find a new name resulting from a recent sponsorship deal to be unfortunate. "Lucky Gas Stadium," critics say, is problematic in light of Germany's Third Reich history.

Dresden's football stadium has been renamed -- and not everyone is happy with the result. Zoom
DPA

Dresden's football stadium has been renamed -- and not everyone is happy with the result.

Chimney sweeps, as every child in Germany knows, bring good luck. Indeed, marzipan figures of the black-clad talismans remain a popular gift on Jan. 1 -- a good omen for the new year.

For Thomas Goldstein, a master chimney sweep from Bavaria, it thus seemed only natural to incorporate the myth into the name of his new company, which provides natural gas to end users. The result: Glücksgas -- or Lucky Gas. The company logo is a top-hat-wearing chimney sweep clad in black.

Recently, however, Goldstein has found himself in the center of a bizarre controversy focused on his company's name. At the beginning of December, Goldstein signed a contract for the naming rights to Dresden's main football stadium. What was once Rudolf Harbig Stadium -- named after a German track and field star from the 1930s -- is now Glücksgas Stadium. An unfortunate choice, say many. When it comes to German history, after all, gas and luck don't go well together. Poison gas created from the chemical Zyklon B was used by the Nazis in their Holocaust death camps.

"When I hear this name," Ulrike Harbig, daughter of the stadium's erstwhile namesake, recently told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, "I can't help but think of the Third Reich."

'An Insensitive Name for a Stadium'

She's not the only one. In recent weeks, several people have voiced concern that the new name evokes unwanted associations with the Holocaust. On German public television station ARD on Tuesday evening, Nora Goldenbogen from Dresden's Jewish community, said "for me, it is an insensitive name for a stadium because it could result in such misunderstandings."

The city of Dresden is likewise unhappy. City hall even looked into legal routes to make use of its right to block the name should it be considered immoral. But the city's hands, say its lawyers, are tied.

Even the local football team, Dynamo Dresden, which plays in the stadium, is unimpressed. "Glücksgas is a difficult name because of our history," team spokesman Enrico Bach told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Personally, I initially made this association as well. I thought it was unfortunate. But my God. Natural gas has been around for a long time and other gas companies sponsor as well."

The team, which merely rents the stadium, did not have a say in the new name. The operation of the stadium has been farmed out to a company called Sportfive GmbH based in Düsseldorf.

The name is perhaps all the more unfortunate given Dynamo Dresden's recent efforts to disassociate itself from the neo-Nazis among its fan base who had done great damage to the team's reputation. Last September, Dynamo Dresden became the first team in the third league to hire a full time fan liaison. Furthermore, the team has placed an emphasis on community outreach in an effort to combat far-right extremism.

"We still have a lot to do," Bach says. "But in recent years, we haven't had any right-wing incidents."

Tedious Coverage

Despite the simmering controversy, it seems unlikely that the new name will be revisited. The stadium was recently completely renovated at a cost of €43 million ($57 million) and the operators could use the money a sponsorship brings. Furthermore, while not all company sponsorships result in names touching on decidedly unappetizing chapters in German history, stadiums across Germany are now named for their sponsors -- from Allianz Arena in Munich to Imtech Arena in Hamburg.

Thomas Goldstein of Glücksgas, for his part, has grown tired of the controversy and has found much of the press coverage tedious. "We are a natural gas supplier and that is our name," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We chose the name because I am a chimney sweep in Munich and chimney sweeps are associated with luck. That's it."

Indeed, even some of those who were initially critical, like Bach, have moved on. "The word 'gas' is a loaded term in Germany, but it is also a term that plays a large role in daily life," he said. "We just have to live with that."

For all his name will soon be disappear from the stadium in February, it seems plausible that Rudolf Harbig himself would agree. In the same year that he represented Germany in the 800 meter race at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he took a job with a Dresden utility. His task? Reading gas meters.

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